I GET to meet all sorts of people in my work. I got chatting to a new friend last week. It is fair to say he has had his ups and downs in life, including serving a prison sentence, but now he is trying everything he can to start again – contribute to his community, earn a decent living and give back as best he can.

We talked about lots of things. The hidden curse of depression; the pain of addiction; the constant barrier of being stigmatised; and of the power and unifying aspects of humour, music and the arts in our lives.

He asked me what I thought was missing from life in Stockton these days – the one, primary thing. It took me a while to answer but I came up with my one word answer: Hope.

I firmly believe that despite the problems in our community, kindness, love, compassion, empathy are still in our make-up. Often hidden until needed, those human traits come to the fore on a daily basis – and they make us what we are – a family. A family that lives and copes through good and bad. But I am seeing hope evaporate from people on a daily basis.

The hope of the young person – second, third generation in a family blighted by unemployment and austerity. The hope of the older person – reaching retirement age and left to remember their contribution – but not to look forwards. The hope of the retailer – passionate and hard working but drowning in the internet tsunami of online shopping. The hope of the sick – being told they can have an appointment at the doctors in two weeks. The hope of the ex-offender, the addict, the shoplifter – picking up and feeding on the crumbs that they feel they will always deserve. The hope of the emergency services – making choices between who they can and cannot help – even save. The hope of refugee – hoping they can one day go home again – or waiting, sometimes for years to see if they can find a new life here.

Hope is evaporating. And that basic human need / right is being replaced with a myriad of other things that can give the person an identity.

The young become the video game-inspired outlaw; the older revert to survival – and not see anyone for weeks; the retailers accept the inevitable – because that’s what everyone tells them every day; the sick get sicker – even self-prescribe to reduce the fear that governs their lives; the ex-offender looks at their options before concluding that a life in prison would be better than the freedom afforded to them; the addict gets more addicted; the emergency services become the needy themselves; the refugee dreams of a place called home. A home full of hopes and dreams.

Somehow we must rediscover our individual and collective sense of hope and aspiration if we are to have any chance of starting to tackle the despair that is killing our community.

We need to have a dream before that dream can come true.

Mike McGrother is the front man of local band The Wildcats of Kilkenny. In recent years in his Wild Rover persona he has embarked on walks to share stories from history and encourage people to talk about mental health.